Can a CPAP machine cause headaches? It is a fair question and headaches are often associated with CPAP therapy, but not in the way you may think they are. In this article, we will explore the question, can CPAP cause headaches, and what is the reason for headaches often suffered by CPAP machine users.
What Is CPAP?
Before we look into the connection between CPAP therapy and headaches, let’s first learn a bit more about CPAP. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines are used as a therapeutic method of treating a sleep disorder commonly referred to as sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is essentially when a sleeper stops breathing while asleep. A CPAP machine created constant airflow which keeps the user’s air passages open to ensure regular breathing when they are asleep. The main cause of sleep apnea is a blockage in the airway. This can be created in several ways but a CPAP machine will keep airways clear.
CPAP And Headaches
Back to our original question. Can a CPAP machine cause headaches? As it turns out, there is no solid proof that verified CPAP therapy as the cause of headaches. However, there is a connection. Or, at least, an indirect connection. Head discomfort is a common symptom of sleep apnea. This is the result of a reduction of oxygen flowing to the brain of a sleeper with sleep apnea.
The head discomfort comes in several different formats. It is usually a tension headache located in the forehead region or around the neck and back of the head. This happens when muscles tense up during a night of restless tossing and turning. The head pain may be in the form of a migraine. This is usually a throbbing pain that can be felt on both sides of the head or all over your head.
Another form of head discomfort is something called cluster headaches. These are characterized by intense pain behind or around one or both eyes for a substantial timeframe. Can a CPAP machine cause headaches? Well, actually, no they don’t. That is because one of the main reasons why you would use a CPAP machine is to sleep better which means the machine is reducing your odds of developing a headache.
The Common CPAP Complaint List
CPAP therapy is very effective for individuals who suffer from sleep apnea. The regular use of a CPAP machine is not always easy, nor does the apparatus that comes with the machine always work without causing some kind of issue. Although we can tell you for certain that a CPAP machine does not cause headaches, they seem to cause other problems. Here is a shortlist of some of the most common complaints that come from CPAP machine users.
Issue #1 - Face Pain
Yup, although you won’t likely develop head pain in the form of a headache through the regular use of CPAP therapy, you do stand a chance of having face pain. The primary cause for any marks, bruising, or pain on the face is connected usually to the CPAP mask or headgear.
When a CPAP mask is too loose or too tight, it can rub against facial skin resulting in irritation. Older masks contain silicone, which many users are allergic to and that can create irritation in the form of a rash. If your mask is too loose, tighten it with the headgear. If your mask is too tight, loosen the headgear. The CPAP mask should sit comfortably on your face if properly fitted.
Issue #2 - Wrong Size Mask
A CPAP mask that is too big or too small can be about as effective as a mask that is too loose or too tight. Masks that are too large will rub and small ones will pinch and can be the cause of you either having trouble breathing with your nose or waking up with a dry mouth. Be sure to use the right size CPAP mask with your machine for the most effective treatment.
Issue #3 - Dry Nose
As we have explained, CPAP is the use of continuous airflow into your airways. The constant movement of air can dry out nasal passages resulting in a dry nose. This can become very painful and itchy. One way to prevent this from developing is to use a humidifier in concert with your CPAP machine. A humidifier adds moisture to the air you breathe and won’t dry out your nasal passages.
Issue #4 - Claustrophobia
If you have a fear of confined spaces, a CPAP machine may be a trigger. We say this as a warning as sometimes CPAP users don’t consider all the possibilities then discover something that throws them off. Claustrophobia is one such thing.
Issue #5 - Light Sleeper
If you are a light sleeper, the hum that comes from a CPAP machine may keep you awake at night. While that may help with your sleep apnea, it won’t help with your sleep. Be sure to check what noise value a CPAP machine is rated at before you commit. The sound level will be indicated in decibels (dB). For example, a whisper or soft music will register at about 30 dB. An air conditioner or conversational speech is at 60 dB. A snowblower or passing diesel truck will top out at about 85 dB and a motorcycle or handheld drill will reach 100 dB.
Issue #6 - Forced Air
We admit it. The feeling of air being sent into your nose can be an unusual sensation. It may make you sneeze. It may make you cough. It is probably one of the most difficult things about CPAP machines that users struggle to get used to. However, the longer you use one, the most comfortable you will become with the sounds, the mask on your face, and the air being pushed into your face.
How To Get Used To CPAP Therapy
As we’ve hinted at, for some, CPAP therapy takes a bit of work to get used to. Here are a few tips to help make it a good experience for you.
Tip #1 - Be Patient
This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind. It will be different to try to fall asleep while wearing a mask and hearing the sound of the CPAP machine. However, if you give it time, you will be able to adjust and will eventually have some of the best nights of sleep you have ever had.
Tip #2 - Try Different Masks
You may reach a point in your CPAP therapy where you can sleep without much problem but the mask is an issue. As we’ve already stated, there are several different mask designs in the marketplace. You can easily try a different style and keep doing so until you find one that fits right and is comfortable for the way you sleep.
Tip #3 - Pay Attention
For the first little while of CPAP machine use, take note of how you feel in the morning. Do you have marks on your face? Does your face feel as if it has been rubbed? Do you have a dry mouth? Is your nose sore? All of these are signs of potential problems related to the mask and how you wear it. Do some troubleshooting to find the solution to the problem you are experiencing and you should be able to remedy it.
Tip #4 - Seek Assistance
The internet is a wonderful source of information. If you are struggling with the operation of your CPAP machine, you can do some research and find either YouTube tutorials or CPAP forums where you will find answers to your questions and some interesting ideas on how to deal with certain issues from people like you who have experienced them and found ways to adapt.
Tip #5 - Try Nasal Pillows
There is always the possibility that a CPAP mask is not the solution for you. If that is the case, switching to nasal pillows may be right for you. There are many different styles available and you may end up trying a few until you find the best solution for your needs. The point here is that you may have to put a little extra effort into locating what will do the trick.
Tip #6 - Try A Ramped System
Some CPAP machines utilize something called a ramp system. What this means is it will gradually increase the air pressure over time so that you can become used to the feeling before falling asleep. Some users say this system is easier for them to use as they will be sleeping by the time the air pressure system is at the proper setting.
Tip #7 - Use A Humidifier
We’ve outlined why a humidifier may be a good idea for your bedroom. It can reduce the risk of dry mouth or dry nasal passages. It is not a cheap solution, but a humidifier will be beneficial if you live in a dry climate.
Can a CPAP machine cause headaches? No evidence points definitively to CPAP therapy as the cause of any kind of headache. However, if you are new to CPAP therapy, the early stages of getting used to the routine may result in headaches of a very different kind.
The main thing the keep in mind is that if your goal is to have a good night’s sleep and you suffer from sleep apnea, your best tool for the job is a CPAP machine. They take a bit of getting used to, and there are many things you can do to accomplish that. Once you find the right machine and mask system, you will have no problem catching a few zees.